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Sex and flirtation advice found in Victorian manuals

Dogs and children should never be taken on dates, the guides say.

Extract from a Victorian love manual (University of Exeter/PA)
Extract from a Victorian love manual (University of Exeter/PA)

The Victorians may have a reputation for being prudish, but researchers have uncovered 19th century manuals featuring explicit sex and flirtation advice.

Manuals, which were easily available in the period, advise people how to write an effective love letters – including how to flirt by positioning stamps on envelopes.

A guide on how to spot a good husband advises singletons to look for a variety of noses, such as large, broad, sharp or Roman.


Flat noses apparently suggest a “flatness of mind and character”, while blunt noses belong to people who are “soulless”, the advice states.

Daters must avoid bad breath “at all costs”, not pick their noses, stick their fingers in their ears or “scratch anything vulgar”.

Looking bored on dates is discouraged, as well as drumming fingers, rubbing hands, yawning or sighing aloud.


Dogs and children should never be taken on a date and men should not offer expensive gifts – unless he is engaged, but only then if they are presented with no ceremony.

Dr Sarah Jones, a historian at the University of Exeter, unearthed the dating advice.

“Despite our ideas about Victorian prudery, our 19th century ancestors were just as concerned as us about dating the right people, marrying well, and having good sex – in short, they were probably more modern than you think,” Dr Jones said.

“Many of these texts were written for people who were quite young – just starting to date or to think about getting married, or else newly wedded and confronted with married life for the first time.

“Some were aimed specifically at women, and include specific instructions about finding a good husband, running the home, and raising children.

“Though we don’t know exactly who followed these tips or how successful they were, the manuals would surely have been an important source of information about topics around sex, love, and marriage at this time.”


One guide states that a man must take care of a woman he has invited to a party but “should never pour her gravy without permission”.

Guides studied by Dr Jones include The Modern Art of Making Love, 1900, as well as A Guide To Purity and Physical Manhood, Advice To Maiden, Wife and Mother.

The 1894 guide Love, Courtship and Marriage was also examined, as well as 1890’s The Mystery of Love, Courtship and Marriage Explained.

Tips include looking out for a quick walking suitor as they will do well in business, while a loud laugh is said to suggest many feelings but little sense.

Avoid dating someone with deformed teeth by choosing someone who opens their mouth often, the advice states.

Light eye colour indicates warmth of feeling, with dark eyes symbolising power.

Black hair is also power, with red hair signalling passion but a quick and intense temper, it claimed.

Tall people are more likely to have higher aspirations and more ambition than someone short, the advice suggests.

Press Association

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